College of Science, Engineering & Technology

Teaching engineering in the ODeL environment is a serious business

Prof Fulufhelo Nemavhola PrEng CEng PhD (Eng)

The College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) has appointed a new Director of the School of Engineering. Fulufhelo Nemavhola, who started his mandate at the beginning of the year, is a proud Unisan.

Currently an Associate Professor, he was formerly Head of Department in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. In addition to being a registered professional engineer (PrEng) with the Engineering Council of South Africa, Nemavhola is also a chartered engineer (CEng), registered with the Engineering Council of the United Kingdom.

Nemavhola’s interest in academic research steered him to pursue a doctorate from the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Cape Town. Currently, his research focus is in the areas of mechanobiology, soft tissue mechanics, mechanics of soft materials, computational biomechanics, design of medical devices and engineering education in open distance e-learning (ODeL). His main research focus is on utilising engineering tools in understanding the mechanisms of various diseases.

He held various positions, including those of senior engineer and design engineer, in private and parastatal companies before joining academia. Nemavhola is extensively involved in research, having authored, co-authored and presented a number of papers at both national and international forums. He also has his heart set on the development of rural villages using technology. In 2018, Nemavhola was one of the top ten young scholars in South Africa honoured by the South African Young Academy of Science.

He and his wife, Muthumuni, have two children.


PhD Engineering, University of Cape Town (UCT)

MSc Mechanical Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)

BSc Mechanical Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)

The news team wanted to learn more about Prof Fulufhelo Nemavhola, who agreed to share a few words with us.

What is the role of the Director of the School?

The vital role that the director of the school can play is to support all staff members to reach their full potential in fulfilling the vision and mission of the university. Of course, this should be achieved by observing the Unisa values as outlined. This could be done through various activities, such as championing important and relevant initiatives at national and international level, including internal and external matters with the aim of achieving excellence. I have always believed in teamwork, inclusive management and consensus decision making, and I see leading the School of Engineering as a great opportunity to achieve great things.

What factors influenced you to join Unisa and CSET?

Teaching engineering in the ODeL environment is a serious business. In fact, training and development of engineers or technologists who should be equipped in solving problems in our communities in any context is a serious business. Engineers have remained essential in the development of societies that they live in. Unisa in general and CSET in particular are better placed in addressing challenges that our society faces in the space of human capacity development, especially in engineering.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges the school is facing?

Over the last decade, the School of Engineering has seen massive growth from very few staff members to now approximately 100 academic staff members. No so long ago the school had no laboratory for students to conduct their lab practicals. This growth will undoubtedly bring several challenges. We have no choice but to be more innovative and efficient in whatever we do so that we can offer the best possible environment for our students. This will allow us to offer our students the services that they deserve. Staff members must be given the support they need to ensure that they deliver high-quality study materials and conduct research that is acceptable to the national and international community.

All these challenges can only be overcome by putting in place well-oiled machinery in terms of strategies. We must find a way to have buy-in from the staff members. In no time, we must be seen as game-changers, both here at home and abroad.

There are a number of great opportunities that have emerged, more particularly the introduction of new engineering programmes from undergraduate to postgraduate level. There are numerous initiatives to increase the number of offerings to the majority of our students. Our labs are modernised and have top-class equipment to offer our students world-class engineering education. These facilities will need to be managed carefully to ensure that students are prioritised and provided with top-class training.

What strategic direction are you bringing to CSET, particularly the School of Engineering?

A well-trained engineer should be able to apply his or her engineering knowledge to solve problems. Our society presents several opportunities for engineers to take advantage of every day. Even though principles of engineering have remained unchanged, the application of these principles has evolved and this evaluation has presented engineering scholars and students and even practitioners with massive opportunities. Some people are boldly saying that some engineering disciplines will die in the next ten years. Now, the question is how do we, as engineering scholars, respond to this. The manner in which we are going to respond to this problem will determine our existence going forward. In view of the challenges that the country is facing, especially in trying to make a contribution towards millennium goals, the following should be looked at immediately:

The current offerings of our programmes

  1. The current offerings of our programmes
  2. The quality of our offerings
  3. Introduction of new engineering programmes that are relevant to today’s world
  4. As an ODeL institution offering engineering qualifications, there is a need for us to look at new ways to offer our practicum.

Above all staff members should be supported in every initiative they take. No school is better than its human resource capacity. At the end the people themselves must define and drive the strategy going forward. The potential for the School of Engineering is massive and all we need to do is to release this and take advantage of this.

What exactly does the word "success" mean to you?

Success may mean different things to different people. In my view, success means that an individual has the opportunity to pursue his or her dreams without being punished for it.

How can we improve the student experience in 2020?

Improving student experience is one of our top priorities. Staff members in the departments are key in answering this question fairly. This year is another year but has given us the opportunities that we have never had. We will do our best to take advantage of this and make the best of it.

* Interview by Thembeka Ntuli-Mpapama, Communication and Marketing Specialist, College of Science, Engineering and Technology

Publish date: 2020-04-07 00:00:00.0